Shedding Some Light on Night Blindness

November 30, 2020

Unlike owls and cats, humans don’t have eyes designed to provide superior sight in the dark. However, as most of us age, we often find it harder to see in low light than we do when we’re young. This “night blindness” is most common when driving after dark, when the intermittent flares of light from oncoming headlights or street lamps cause blinding glare or a momentary loss of vision. It can also appear when you leave a bright, sunlit area to enter a dimly lit restaurant or bar.

Night blindness, or “nyctalopia”, isn’t blindness in the literal sense. People with this condition don’t lose their ability to see, they just find it harder to see in low light. Unlike most eye problems, night blindness is a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a disease in and of itself. It’s common in people over the age of fifty, as many of the conditions that cause night blindness tend to develop in patients in this age group. If you suffer from one or more of the following issues, you may find you have a problem with night blindness as well.

• Myopia

• Glaucoma medications that work by constricting the pupil

• Cataracts

• Issues with the retina

• Vitamin A deficiency

• Genetic conditions such as Usher syndrome or retinitis pigmentosa

You’ll need to see an eye doctor to determine the cause of your night blindness before it can be treated. For example, night blindness due to cataracts can only be treated with surgery, while a change in medication, vitamin supplements or a new prescription for your glasses may address the issue in other cases. (And if you need new glasses, don’t forget to elevate your look with some sharp designer frames!) If a retinal problem is detected, the exact diagnosis will determine treatment. Genetic conditions cannot be treated, but lifestyle changes such as avoiding night driving and wearing sun hats and good quality sunglasses to cut glare can help considerably.

Night blindness also occurs in people living with astigmatism. Many patients with astigmatism have difficulty driving at night due to increased glare. The shape of the cornea is the culprit in this case. When a person has astigmatism, their cornea tends to be football shaped, rather than rounded. This irregular shape means light enters the cornea at different points, causing blurry vision. At night, or in lower light, the pupil of the eye dilates to let in more light. As the pupil gets larger, even more light enters the eye, causing the blurring to intensify and halos and glare to form.

For most astigmatism patients, an accurate prescription can make a significant difference. Both glasses and contact lenses can treat astigmatism after a thorough vision exam. In addition, LASIK surgery is now available for astigmatic patients. This simple procedure can be a game changer when it comes to their ability to see well at night without the harsh glare they’ve become accustomed to.

If you watch a lot of cable TV, especially at night, or if you spend a lot of time surfing the web, you’ve probably seen commercials and ads for “night driving” glasses. Their yellow colored lenses promise to reduce glare and improve night vision. However, a study conducted last year shed some unfavorable light on this claim. Although only 22 volunteers participated in the study, not a single one noticed an improvement in their night vision or a reduction of glare.

Our optometrists agree – if you’re looking for a way to combat night blindness, this isn’t it. Instead, visit our Houston eye doctors for a proven, medically sound approach to this common problem. Call us at 713-360-7095 to schedule a consultation and vision test today. At Pro-Optix Eye Care, we’re dedicated to helping our neighbors improve their vision and stay safe at night!

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